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Meet the Innovators: Blake Flores

June 4, 2024

Impact | The Originate Initiative

Blake Flores shares his insights on leading innovation and expanding markets through strategic partnerships and exciting new products.

Blake Flores, director of marketing for the Foodservice division at Hormel Foods, started with Hormel Foodservice in 2005 as a sales representative in Denver, Colorado. From there, he advanced to Foodservice sales territories in Jacksonville, Florida, and Cincinnati, Ohio, before moving to corporate in 2012. Over his 19-year career with Hormel Foods, he has 12 years of experience in Hormel Foodservice sales and seven years in Hormel Foodservice marketing.


Can you describe your role at Hormel Foods and how it supports The Originate Initiative and innovation efforts?

I am a director of marketing in the Foodservice division, and I oversee our innovation efforts. This includes new product development, new channels, new segments that we’re pursuing and trying to get into. I lead the efforts in making the items for those targets.

You have worked closely with college foodservice departments, among others. How do these partnerships support the Hormel Foods approach to innovation?

We really value the partnerships we have on the foodservice side, and we’re always in contact with those decision makers. We have tight relationships with a lot of different colleges, universities and healthcare systems, and we’re very intentional about engaging with them.

In many cases, we invite them to Austin, Minnesota, to come share with us, provide feedback on what we’re doing, and we gain great insights out of that partnership experience when they’re here in our house, sharing ideas on what they’d like to see us do.

An example of that was last summer when we hosted many university dining directors and had an open discussion about what college campuses need not only in today’s environment, but what the future looks like. This helps us understand what we should be working on from an innovation perspective.

College foodservice seems a particularly interesting area where Hormel Foods can learn about the preferences of future consumers. What trends can we identify from that sector?

College foodservice always provides a glimpse into the future of eating habits and trends. As we look at the college and university landscape today, one of the things we see and hear about a lot is the need for halal type items. We’ve also seen that demographic, at least today, being really interested in what global flavors are available. So beyond just Mexican food, what type of Asian or African dishes are becoming popular? College and university students are a lot more adventurous, and they have many more options than they did 10, 20, 30 years ago.

Redefining Value is a trend space that was once again identified by the Hormel Foods insight team as an area to monitor. How does the sous vide chicken product provide value for your customers?

Prior to Flash 180™ Battered Sous Vide Chicken, the Foodservice industry only had two options available to them as it pertains to a fried chicken breast. The first option was to buy a raw chicken breast and deal with all the safety, resource and time challenges that come with raw chicken. The second option was to buy a pre-fried and frozen chicken breast from one of the big chicken companies out there. The problem with that second option is the pre-fried and frozen options are all so similar and limiting. Our goal was for Flash 180™ Battered Sous Vide Chicken to become the third option the industry needed — one that provides benefits on safety, time and customization that didn’t exist prior.

In the past, everything when it came to a fried chicken breast would take seven, eight or in some cases nine minutes in the fryer. Flash 180™ Battered Sous Vide Chicken Breast takes three minutes or less. I know it doesn’t sound like a lot, but to a foodservice kitchen that’s also doing French fries, corn dogs, all kinds of different things, Flash 180™ demonstrates an important value change when it comes to speed and how quickly they can turn around a fried item to order.

Can you give an example of a product innovation that was sparked by an idea from one of your team members?

I always like to say that innovation is a team sport and that a lot of people need to work well together to come out with something special. A recent example of that is our HORMEL® Ribbon Pepperoni. About a year and a half ago, we were working on a spiral pepperoni project where we were trying to make a pepperoni piece that was in the shape of a spiral. It looked really great, but execution-wise, it wasn’t going to meet our operators’ needs. At the time, we had a salesperson come forward and say, “Have you ever had a Windsor style pizza?”

Think of all the places pepperoni can go if you could have it in a non-round slice format — salads, within kolaches or on top of mac and cheese, or even in a sandwich. If you’re not tied to that round circular slice, you can take pepperoni in more directions. The ribbon format delivers the great taste of pepperoni in a fun and exciting new way. It’s great on a pizza, of course, but the ribbon format enables pepperoni to go beyond its traditional applications.

So we took that spiral pepperoni project as it was, and we completely pivoted into HORMEL® Ribbon Pepperoni. And six quick months later, through great work from our R&D and operations team, we have a really wonderful item that’s out there disrupting the pepperoni category in foodservice. It’s off to a great start, and we have high expectations for it moving forward.

How does the Hormel Foodservice sales team impact our innovation approach?

We have a direct salesforce that’s out there every day calling on operators. It’s one of the most disruptive salesforces in the foodservice business. To be able to have that team communicate the value propositions of new, innovative items is what makes us successful from an innovation standpoint. When working for a big company, it’s always about maximizing your resources. If we’re not utilizing that direct salesforce of Hormel Foodservice, and if we’re not equipping them with innovative items to sell, then we’re not maximizing that resource. It’s really important for us to fuel that fire with our direct salesforce, providing them with great items to present to their customers on the foodservice side.